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The best headphones for music: Expert reviewed

Hear more out of your music with these best headphones from Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and more.
Written by Nina Raemont, Associate Editor on

All headphones, in theory, should deliver amazing sound for music listening. But when we think about what exactly makes a headphone great for mixing and mastering music or critical listening, there are a couple key features that separate the spectacular music headphones from the just-fine cans. 

For example, most of ZDNET's best headphone and best earbud lists shy away from wired headphones, since there are so many great Bluetooth headphones we spotlight that our reviewers and readers love. But if you want true, lossless audio that's faithful to the sound of your music, wired is simply better. And what about noise-canceling headphones? They aren't as great at delivering lossless audio compared to headphones without ANC, so there are less noise-canceling options on this list compared to some of our other lists. 

More: Best wireless headphones, expert tested and reviewed

These headphones suit the music geeks, the sound engineers, the producers and mixers and DJs, but they also serve anyone who wants to hear more out of their music. We've done hands-on testing and research on the headphones that music producers swear by, and the headphones that are objective favorites across categories, to build you a curated list of the best headphones for listening to music that you'll also love wearing. 

Our pick for the best music headphones overall is the Sony WH-1000XM5 for its spacial audio and Dolby Atmos surround-sound technology, great battery life, and adaptive noise-cancelling features. Whether you are a serious audiophile or a casual listener, these are the best headphones for music that you can buy. 

Best music headphones of 2023

Pros & Cons
  • Adaptive noise-cancelling
  • Alexa built-in
  • Great battery life
  • Spatial audio and Dolby Atmos
  • Requires compatible music service
  • Does not fold all the way
More Details

Sony WH-1000XM5 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 | Battery life: 30 hours | Frequency response: 4Hz - 40,000Hz | Driver size: 30mm | Noise cancellation: Yes 

The latest model of Sony's standout headphones is "simply superb." That's according to ZDNET writer Matthew Miller, who reviewed the headphones last year. Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones are at the top of nearly every one of ZDNET's best headphones lists, and that's for good reason. "The Sony WH-1000XM5 is arguably the best wireless headset available today," Miller writes. 

Read the review: Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones are basically perfect

With 30 hours of battery, impressive sound, a convenient version of Bluetooth 5.2 that easily connects to two different devices at the same time, and zero discomfort upon hours of wear, it's clear these are the headphones to beat. The cans come with eight microphones and two processors for sincere noise cancellation that amplifies any album or song you're listening to. 

These headphones deliver a far wider range of frequency response for more robust and layered sound, ideal for hearing more out of your music. 

Pros & Cons
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Ambient aware function
  • Fantastic noise cancellation
  • Lacks EQ
  • Some USB-C challenges
More Details

Bose QuietComfort 45 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1 | Battery life: Up to 24 hours | Frequency response: N/A | Driver size: 40mm | Noise cancellation: Yes

The Bose QuietComfort 45 are ZDNET's resident headphones reviewer Jada Jones's platonic ideal for a pair of cans: they're around $300; they're comfortable to wear for hours on end; and the audio is immersive and clear. Bose delivers a wireless, over-ear headphone with rich noise cancellation and Quiet and Aware modes that blend to your surroundings. 

More: These Bose QC 45 headphones are my go-to for all-day listening

For the listeners who know that different genres of music require different equalizer settings, you can customize the sound of your music through an app with Bose's Active EQ. Plus, with up to 24 hours of battery life, you could fill your entire day with music before even thinking about recharging. 

Pros & Cons
  • Headphone-level sound
  • Snug and comfortable fit
  • Great ANC
  • The foam tips collect more ear wax than other earbuds
  • Expensive
More Details

Sony WF-1000XM5 tech specsConnectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 | Battery life: 8 hours | Frequency: NA | Noise cancellation: Yes | Waterproof? Water-resistant 

These earbuds, according to ZDNET's Jada Jones, cancel noise like an over-ear headphone. "With them on, gone are the extraneous noises at the gym, including sounds of overused machines, dropped weights, background music, and people talking," Jones writes in her review. They fit snugly into her ears and provided eight hours of noise-cancelling sound (and 36 hours of battery life without ANC turned on). 

If you want unmatched sound quality but don't want to lug around a massive headphones case, the WF-1000XM5 is for you. "They can handle the deepest of bass, communicating a clear, defined, and well-balanced sound -- better than some over-ear headphones I've tried," Jones writes. 

Read the review: Sony's new WF-1000XM5 may just be the best premium earbuds right now

Pros & Cons
  • Lightweight
  • Solid construction
  • Excellent detail
  • Lacks sound isolation
  • Oversized
  • Expensive
More Details

Sennheiser HD 800 S tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: Wired | Battery life: Unlimited | Frequency response: 4Hz - 51,000Hz | Driver size: 56mm | Noise cancellation: No

Make no mistake: We know that $1,700 is a lot to dole out for a pair of headphones. But you are getting what you pay for when you buy the Sennheiser HD 800 S headphones. The headphones utilize a 56mm driver, an incredibly large transducer that converts audio signals into sound waves. (For comparison, most drivers on this list are only around 40mm.) Unlike most of the other picks on this list, the HD 800 S is a wired headphone, which might cause you to opt for an alternative if you'd rather go for Bluetooth connectivity. You won't ever have to worry about battery life or charging with these.

These headphones feature an open-back design that wraps around the ear for extra comfort and a sound absorbing technology that maintains the audio integrity and eliminates the "masking effect" of music. The masking effect occurs when we can't hear bright sounds at lower frequencies when they are played at a louder volume. For musicians, audiophiles, or creatives who want to hear every squeak in their songs and videos, these are the headphones for you. 

Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X Headphones tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: Wired | Battery life: Unlimited | Frequency response: 5Hz - 40,000Hz | Driver: Stellar 45 | Noise cancellation: No

There are a few key features of the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X headphones that make them ideal for critical music listening. The first is Beyerdynamic's Stellar 45 driver, which features a copper-clad, lightweight voice coil that assists the headphone in accurately recreating the organic sound of music and avoiding any audible distortion. The DT 900 Pro X headphones' frequency response is far below and above the range of normal human hearing, creating sounds reproduced through the cans with razor-sharp precision. The headphone earcups are open-back, a great design that widens the soundstage for anyone mixing and mastering music or playing video games. 

This is another wired pair of headphones, because wired headphones tend to have better sound quality than their Bluetooth counterparts. Since they are wired, you never have to worry about them dying on you. 

Pros & Cons
  • Rich sound
  • Large driver size
  • Affordable option for studio headphones
  • Wired
  • Headphone padding disintegrates over time
More Details

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: Wired | Battery life: Unlimited | Frequency response: 15Hz-28,000Hz | Driver: 45mm | Noise cancellation: No

When ZDNET writer Lena Borrelli interviewed music producer Lorenzo Brizzo about these headphones, he called the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x "perfect for studio listening with excellent noise isolation." "We value a sound experience that is in between a pro listener (us) and a casual one (our users), and the ATH-M50x is able to provide that," Brizzo said.  

The circumaural design of the headphones isolates sound from within to prevent noise bleed, and the larger-than-average driver size registers noise below and above the audible level of human hearing. Audio-Technica markets these cans as a studio quality headphone at an affordable price ($150), so if you're a fiscally responsible geek about music, these are up your alley. Mix and edit tracks or listen to a song in its purest and richest form with these headphones on. 

What are the best headphones for music?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are hands-down the best headphones for music. They may not be the cheapest option out there, but their incredible value and performance cannot be denied. To see how they stack up, this is a summary of the best headphones for music. 

Best headphones for musicCostTypeConnectivity
Sony WH-1000XM5$398Over-earBluetooth 5.2
Bose QuietComfort 45$329Over-earBluetooth 5.1
Sony WF-1000XM5$300In-earBluetooth 5.3
Sennheiser HD 800 S$1,700Over-earWired
Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X$269Over-earWired
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x$150Over-earWired

Which headphones for music are right for you?

It all depends on what you're looking for: we included budget-friendly headphones, headphones with ANC technology, and even wired headphones for you to choose from. Whichever pair you select delivers unmatched sound quality for music listening. 

Choose these headphones for music...If you want...
Sony WH-1000XM5The best wireless headphones for supreme sound, impressive noise cancellation, and long-lasting battery life. These headphones serve the music enthusiast and the casual listener.
Bose QuietComfort 45Great noise canceling headphones and 24 hours of battery life.
Sony WF-1000XM5Earbuds that deliver sound quality that's on par with some over-ear headphones.
Sennheiser HD 800 SThe supreme pair of headphones for music enthusiasts, producers, and DJs. The most expensive option on this list for $1,700, the wired headphones include the largest driver on this list and boast an unmatched frequency response.
Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro XThe best studio headphones built for critical listening, creating music, or video game playing, and they're below $300.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xStudio headphones for $150 that offer clear, lossless sound, and a wired connection.

How did we choose these headphones for music?

When testing and researching the best headphones for music, we considered several factors before making our top picks. 

  • Type: The different types of headphones include over-the-ear headphones, in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, open-back headphones, wired or wireless, and more. The different designs, especially wired or wireless, will impact your listening experience. Figure out which type you prefer before making your decision.  

  • Sound: We considered the type of sound and how well it is able to handle things like bass and clarity. Noise cancellation is another particular sound feature that many shoppers search for and appreciate, though many noise cancelling headphones may not deliver studio-level sound. 

  • Battery life: If your pair of headphones relies on a Bluetooth connection you'll need to charge them every so often. The best wireless headphones on this list boast strong and long battery lives so you can pass more time listening and less time by the charger. 

  • Price: The cost of these music headphones range from $150 all the way to $1,700. We made sure to include a diversity of prices so you can find your favorite pair at your preferred price point. 

Who makes the best headphones for music?

Sony, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, among other headphone manufacturers make great headphones for critical music listening. Some of these manufacturers specialize in studio headphones, which are made for mixing and mastering music and deliver precise, faithful sound. 

How much do the best headphones for music cost?

Headphones for music can run the gamut in price, depending on special features like ANC, EQ customizations, and comfort levels. Overall, you'll find the best headphones for music range in price from $80 all the way up to $2,500, depending on the model you choose. 

Are wired or wireless headphones better for listening to music?

Wireless headphones may be more convenient if you want a portable pair of headphones for exercising or walking around, but wired headphones are miles better for delivering exceptional sound quality. That's because wired headphones deliver analog signals that handle more data compared to digital signals in wireless headphones. 

What qualities do good music headphones have?

Headphones that specialize in critical listening have wider ranges of frequency response that deliver sounds that register well below and above the audible level of human hearing. They also have large driver sizes that can register and transmit such sounds. Headphones with apps or interfaces to adjust the EQ of the music are also great when you want to deeply listen to your favorite songs or audio recordings. 

Are there alternative headphones for music worth considering?

There are plenty of other headphones on the market that are great options to listen to music with. In our search, we found these additional headphones that may be worth a second look.

Sennheiser Momentum 4 wireless headphones against red brick
Jada Jones/ZDNET

ZDNET's Jada Jones hears every detail of her music with these headphones. 

The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 earbuds aren't perfect (with a bulkier design and a $399 price tag), but our reviews editor June Wan says that they're some of the best audio headphones he's listened to. 

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